One of my fondest childhood memories is driving out to the polo fields near where I grew up in Maryland to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July.
After eating hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, we’d pack up our big purple horse blanket with the yellow rope trim, drinks, snacks and my trusty orange frisbee and drive out to the fields. Depending on how much it had rained in the days prior, parking could sometimes be a very muddy affair.
By the time we’d arrive at the field, the celebration would be in full swing. Cover bands were playing incredibly loud rock music while women in short denim cutoffs, big hair and visible bra straps danced and raised their beers in the air (these were very colorful people to me, given my upper middle class suburban upbringing). My dad would always get a big draft beer in a plastic cup and sneak me sips when my mom wasn’t looking. Then we’d throw the frisbee back and forth as the sun set. Each year I’d forget how to throw it accurately, having honed my softball skills all spring.
Soon, we’d have our rhythm down, and stand what felt like miles apart, tossing the frisbee between us and making heroic, diving catches. Waiting for the sky to get adequately dark felt incredibly long and if it weren’t for that frisbee I’m sure I would have been bored to tears.
“Is it dark enough yet?” I’d ask every few minutes.
“Nope, not yet,” one of my parents would respond, as I’d marvel at the fact that it was past 9:00 at night and the sky was still far too bright for the show to begin.
After several dozen more catches, it would be time to relocate our blanket. Ever the rule-breakers, my dad and I would march over to the knee-high chain-link fence and hop over it with our blanket and his beer, intent on setting up right below where the fireworks exploded, stretching out on our backs to watch the show directly overhead. As a young child, I was totally freaked out by being so close. Some years I was able to convince myself that we wouldn’t catch on fire (my dad always promised me we wouldn’t) and be brave enough to assume our law-breaking tradition. Other years, I’d cave. One summer, I tried my hardest to convince my dad that the show would look even better from the grandstand where my mom sat and watched. He humored me sweetly but even I knew it wasn’t the same as our usual spot.
But the years that we lay down underneath the firework-filled sky (and there were many such years), it was a magical experience. Now, mind you, back then, fireworks displays didn’t feature numerous explosions at once, a standard experience at fireworks shows today. Back then, in the 80s and early 90s, the fireworks were shot off one by one.
And let me tell you, it was so much better.
Before the country’s collective attention span shrank down to the size of a handheld sparkler, a fireworks show came with built-in suspense. Way out in the field, we could make out the tiny silhouettes of the men who set off the fireworks, and each one that they sent up into the sky was special.
Flat on our backs, we’d listen in anticipation for that telltale “shhuuuck” as the firework was launched into the air, having no idea what type of explosion it would be. Against the dark night sky (my parents were always right — any earlier would have been no good), we watched the trail of smoke trace a path behind the tiny rocket. And we’d hold our breath, eager to see what kind of firework it would be.
There were the colorful fireworks that exploded outward in all directions — classic and beautiful. And the crowd would let out a collective, “ahhhh!”
Then there were the gold sparkly ones that rained outward like a palm tree. When I was older, we called them “Bob Marley Fireworks,” since they resembled the reggae legend’s long dreadlocks.
Sometimes, we’d get the really loud ones that made a deep “boom!” we could feel in our chests. “Ohhh!” the crowd roared behind us as a ball of smoke hung in the sky, slow to dissipate.
“Ooooh!” went the crowd, as a glittery blue pattern lit up the sky. Occasionally, we’d get a low one and the little firework sparks would rain down on us. I always tried my best to be cool about it and very brave, but my imagination ran wild with visions of our horse blanket going up in flames. Luckily, it never actually posed a problem. Dad would laugh, in a totally good-natured way, at my diligence to snuff out any tiny amber droppings.
Sometimes, we’d get a dud, with just a small explosion going off in the distance. Dad and I always said we could make out the guy who set it off going, “ooh, ow, ow!”
And it wasn’t until the very end that we’d get that frenetic, climactic show with multiple fireworks going off at once. You always knew it was coming because it would take the guys a few moments to set it up. After the last singular firework, smatterings of applause would break out in the field and the grandstand.
“Here we go,” Dad would say and I’d strain to see the firework guys setting up the big show.
The finale was always fantastic. Even better than the ones today, I think, since after several dozen single fireworks, it was a truly special finish to see so many go off at once. “Whoa! Wow! Yeah! YEAH!” my dad would shout beside me.
When it was all over, the sky was filled with the remnants of the show, a giant cloud of spidery-shaped smoke drifting over the field in whichever direction the wind was blowing. The crowed exploded into applause as we jumped to our feet to show our appreciation to the men who put on the show. Through the smoke we’d see them wave, and then we’d pack up our stuff and head back to the car.
Leaving the lot was always a long, grumpy ordeal for my parents. My dad would curse at the bad drivers as my mom tried to calm him down. But to me — tired and happy, the sweat cooling on my skin thanks to the A/C in my dad’s black Camaro — even being stuck in traffic was fun as I sat and watched a sea of brake lights ahead of us. Nothing could compare to the Fourth of July.
There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.